Book review: Tommy Caldwell – The Push: A climber’s journey of endurance, risk and going beyond limits

Starting with bouldering made me explore the limits of climbing in many different ways. I started with watching all the IFSC bouldering world cups on YouTube. By that, I discovered climbers like Adam Ondra and Chris Sharma. And via them I discovered all those free climbing actions happening in Yosemite National Park in general and on the El Capitan especially. From discovering climbing on El Cap it was only a small step to discover Tommy Caldwell and his impressive red-point climb through El Cap’s Dawn Wall. As I always liked to read I decided to buy his biography rather than watching the movie. Therefore I ordered „The Push“ and took the opportunity of a 2-weeks-business trip to read through.

This would only be the second autobiography I would read. The first one was Tony Hawks „Occupation: Skateboarder“ and I read it many times. To be honest, I read it so many times that the colored picture pages in the middle of the book started to fall out of the binding and the pages became all yellow and greasy. So that’s my landmark for a good autobiography. But let’s get into the meat of it:

First of all some facts and figures: I bought the hardcover version of the book for 22,00 EUR from Amazon. It was delivered in top condition. The pages are in good paper quality and even the bookmark survived the traveling. The book has 448 pages (German version!) and includes a middle part with color photo pages from Tommy’s childhood up until the day he mastered the Dawn Wall.

Starting from the beginning Tommy describes his childhood and youth, growing up with a father who is very successful in bodybuilding and climbing. Through his whole life, his father will be the constant idol Tommy always tries to impress and is looking up to. Therefore he describes the relationship to his father throughout all stages of his life. Those passages depict the emotions of a young athlete growing up under the strict regiment of a father who always pushes him to do the next step. From early on Tommy’s father took him and his sister along on his climbing and hiking trips always expecting them to do their best but in response always supporting them and giving them the back up the need to master even the most difficult climbs and hikes. This mentality is what pushes Tommy through his early years in competitive climbing and helps him to overcome his biggest mental blockades.

The description of those human relationships is what made the book worth reading for me. Throughout his life, Tommy Caldwell encountered some friendships and rope comraderies only to be found in climbing and other extreme sports. For example, his relationship with his first wife felt very relatable to me as I sometimes felt similar in my first marriage. Throughout the whole book, the reader can more and more relate to Tommy as he is very good at describing his feelings, relationships, and emotions. He is very reflective on himself and knows about his flaws and incapabilities. Reading the book was like talking to a real person and getting to know Tommy very well.

It was the first book in a long time I finished in only a few days. Every evening I looked forward to picking up the book again and finish another chapter. The whole thing is very inspiring and gives good inside into the life of a professional climber. Tommy describes all the cruxes of living on a budget but also all the positive climbing and traveling can give to you. As he is a very complete climber (he is a rock- and big-wall climber as well as an alpinist and sports climber) he can give insides into all the different disciplines of climbing. Throughout his long climbing Career, he went through many spectacular routes and opened many new routes himself. He red-pointed (or free climbed) more routes on El Cap than anyone else, he even speed-climbed multiple of them in under 24 hours and was the first to link up two (or more) routes on El Cap in an under 24 hour time window. Through all the descriptions of his exemplary climbing work he always stays very humble and knows that it’s not only the exceptional climbing that brings him up the walls but also the teams he worked with and his rope team. The whole book is an inspiration as well as a travel guide through the hardest and most spectacular sport climbing routes and big walls on the whole planet.

As a conclusion, I can only say that I recommend „Push“ to every aspiring climber as well as to everyone interested in reading autobiographies as Tommy Caldwell is an inspiring person and lived his dream.

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